Molecular & Microbial Ecology
The oceans are the oldest, evolving continuum on Earth with its evolutionary heritage imprinted in microbial genomes. Marine microbes (i.e., protists, phytoplankton, bacteria, viruses) account for ~95% of all oceanic biomass and drive oceanic ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles through an immense, rapidly evolving, metabolic diversity. They inhabit every conceivable niche from spanning the sunlit, oxygenated upper ocean to the deep, dark biosphere of trenches and hydrothermal vents, having evolved adaptations to extreme ranges in temperature, pH, oxygen availability and pressure. Yet, we are still faced with fundamental open questions about the diversity, activity, regulation, and evolutionary development of their biochemical and molecular strategies. This is largely due to the fact that microbes are hard to differentiate and study using traditional, ecological observational techniques. Understanding of the form, flow, and function of biological molecules (genes, proteins, lipids, and metabolites), which shape the structure of cells, organisms, and ecosystems, and how encoded cellular information flows through a dynamic ocean and shapes the trajectory of ecosystem processes and biogeochemical cycles is a critical aspect of microbial oceanography and molecular ecology. How do a wide variety of biomolecules operate and imprint themselves on the environment by regulating the fate of a diverse array of cells, processes & ecosystems? Ongoing efforts by Rutgers scientists aim to elucidate the diversity, activity, regulation, and evolution of microbial genes and link them to key oceanic ecosystem and biogeochemical processes, by merging biochemistry, molecular biology, and genome-based approaches with innovative instrumentation. These efforts have begun to shed novel insight into staggering microbial biodiversity and a range of cellular strategies, including niche adaptation, stress response, cell communication, signaling, and defense, which strongly shape their ecological and biogeochemical impact in the oceans.